By Farid Tanha*
Azizullah is a 50-year-old driver who works the route leading from Parwan to the neighbouring province of Kapisa.
Even though he drives for a living, he said that he had never taken a single lesson, let alone passed any tests.
“There are officials in the traffic department who charge 45 dollars and will deliver the license straight to your home,” he said, going on to explain that to legally get a license, you must pay a ten dollar registration fee, attend a two-week course and then pass a test.
But even if you took this route, he continued, the rumour was that it was impossible to pass the test without paying a hefty bribe.
So three years ago, Azizullah simply paid a 45 US dollar fee to a traffic policeman he knew.
“He took four photos and a photocopy of my identity card and then a week later delivered my driving license to my home.”
Residents of Parwan in eastern Afghanistan say that it has become routine practice to pay a substantial bribe in exchange for obtaining a driving license.
A government source who asked to remain anonymous said that officials at Parwan’s traffic department purposefully prolonged the bureaucratic process so that applicants were forced to offer bribes if they ever wanted to receive their documents.
He confirmed that it was standard procedure to pay a go-between a fee of up to 45 dollars to arrange the delivery of the license.
That was the experience of Mohammad Mubarez, a 27-year-old resident of Charikar city who now has his own Toyota Corolla. At first, he said, he had applied in the standard way and planned to attend a driving course.
However, a senior official then told him, “I will fail you even if you attend a driving course ten times over. You cannot get a driving license unless you pay me 15 dollars.”
Mohammad continued, “Finally, I had to give him 15 dollars and pay another 10 dollars to the bank to get my driving licence.”
Khaliqdad, an official who has worked in the traffic department for more than 30 years, said that a failure to meet basic standards of road safety made driving in Afghanistan very perilous.
“The criteria considered for distributing driving licenses are that the person must have good eyesight and hearing and must attend a two week driving course,” he said, adding that a lack of even basic knowledge of traffic rules and signs not only led to more congestion but also more fatal accidents.
Parwan provincial police chief Mohammad Zaman Mamozai confirmed that they had received numerous complaints of graft at the department but had failed to build the evidence for any legal action.
“We summoned the head of the traffic department many times to tell him about numerous complaints of bribery, “ he said. “But he swore that he had not been involved in anything of that nature, and since we did not have documentary evidence of these allegations, we could not pass anything to the attorney general’s office.”
“There are rumours and allegations of bribery in Parwan’s traffic department, and the governor’s office has also received some complaints on this matter, but nobody has been referred to the attorney general’s office,” agreed Banu Wahida Shahkar, spokeswoman for the governor of Parwan.
Mehrabuddin Parwani, head of Parwan’s traffic department, denied ever taking a bribe in return for issuing a driving license.
Not everyone is willing to go along with the scam.
Abdul Jabar Salangi, a 30-year old resident of Hofyan in Charikar city, recently bought a Toyota Corolla despite having not yet received his license.
“I applied to Parwan’s traffic department for a driving license a month ago, and I’ve even attended a driving course, but I have not received a license yet,” he said, adding that no matter how long he had to wait he refused to pay anyone a backhander to speed the process.
If ordinary people paid bribes, he continued, they only facilitated administrative corruption.
Others have fewer qualms. Abdul Hakim, a 35-year old tailor who lives in Shahrak Massoud in central Parwan, said that he had not had the time to take driving lessons or spend days tangled up in bureaucracy at the traffic department.
Instead, he simply paid 45 dollars to receive his licence.
Hakim said he was not intimidated by the prospect of hitting the roads with no previous driving experience.
“I will learn little by little,” he said. “There are a lot of other people on the roads who don’t know how to drive and who haven’t attended the driving course.”
*This report was produced under IWPR’s Supporting Investigative Reporting in Local Media and Strengthening Civil Society across Afghanistan initiative, funded by the British Embassy Kabul. This article was published by IWPR’s ARR 583